Mr Bridenstine said the planned US “space force” – which President Donald Trump wants to become the sixth branch of the American military – is meant to deter countries that “believe they are going to get an advantage by destroying space”.
The US, Russia, China and, most recently, India have all successfully demonstrated the capability to shoot satellites out of space.
In an interview with Sky News to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, Mr Bridenstine, who is NASA’s administrator, said: “There are countries around the world that believe they are going to get an advantage by destroying space.
“But people need to know this – you will not get an advantage over the United States by destroying space.
“And to the extent that we have a space force, it is to make sure that if we can convince people rightly and properly that they will not gain an advantage by destroying space, then they won’t make those investments.
“That’s the goal, so that space can be preserved for humanity, for science, for exploration, for commerce.”
US politicians have expressed concern about the threat posed by Chinese hackers targeting satellites.
In 2018 report, the Washington-based think tank, the Centre For Strategic and International Studies, warned that China is “arguably the fastest rising power in space” and has “made rapid progress in developing both its space and counter-space capabilities”.
“The country tested direct-ascent weapons, on-orbit robotics, and remote proximity operations,” the think tank said.
“Reports indicate that China is also developing and testing directed energy and jamming technologies.”
In his interview with Sky News, Mr Bridenstine spoke about his focus on the Artemis mission to put American astronauts on the moon by 2024, and then eventually go on to Mars.
He said: “When we think about how we get to the moon, we’ve tried to get to the moon over and over again since the Apollo era, and it always fails.
“The question is why? It fails not because of the technical risk, it fails because of the political risk.
“So when a programme goes 15 years, then you have administration change, congress change, budgets change, priorities change, you never get to the end state.
“And so what the president has said is that we are going to accelerate the path, so we are going to go within five years, go and get it done… we retire the political risk by accelerating.”
NASA’s ambition is to put the first woman on the moon in 2024.
Asked if a female astronaut would be the first of her crew to step on the surface, Mr Bridenstine replied: “I would imagine that the next person we have walking on the moon will be a woman.”
NASA is partnering closely with private industry, and believes that in the future there will be a space economy built on mining, tourism and research.
Mr Bridenstine was asked if he had considered that NASA could be paving the way for humans to make the same mistakes when it comes to natural resource exploitation in space as they have done on Earth.
He said: “I think when it comes to the resources of the moon, that’s ultimately what will drive commercial industry and development of space.
“It’s what drove people to come to the United States of America and then expand West, and ultimately that will drive the expansion of humanity in to our own solar system.
“So no I don’t view that as counterproductive, I view that as very productive. But it is absolutely true that there is a regulatory piece to this that has not been developed yet and we have to get that right.”
Eventually NASA wants to send humans to Mars.
Mr Bridenstine said: “There are complex organic compounds on Mars – the building blocks for life exist on Mars.
“They don’t exist on the moon, they exist on Mars.
“Doesn’t mean there’s life there – I don’t know, neither does anybody else, but we ought to go find out.
“We now know that there’s liquid water 12km (7.5 miles) under the surface of Mars, where the water is protected from the radiation of deep space.
“What do we know about liquid water on earth? Anywhere it exists, there’s life.
“Does that mean there’s life on Mars? I don’t know, but the probability has gone up yet again.
“I think there could come a day when we find life on another world, and when that happens I think it should be done by the United States of America leading a coalition of free nations and that’s ultimately what we are trying to achieve.”
Author: Hannah Thomas-Peter